By a Window Overlooking Baltimore
Josefina Ayerza



Author's Bio


By a window overlooking Baltimore in the not-quite-daylight — looking through this window — while preparing a “little talk” for Johns Hopkins, Jacques Lacan notices haunting constructions, heavy traffic, a neon light flashing. . . . In everything he sees — but the trees — he traces the result of thoughts, active thoughts, “where the function played by the subjects is not obvious. In any case the so-called Dasein, as a definition of the subject, was there in this intermittent or fading spectator. The best image to sum up the unconscious is Baltimore in the early morning.”1

The neon that flashes over Baltimore, offering less than full light, nevertheless silhouetting things, may characterize the circumstance of a subject thrown into fitful disclosure — now equivocal, now lapsing, now witty, now a slip of the tongue.

In Position of the Unconscious2 Lacan defines an effective priority of the signifier, which plays against the subject and wins the game. A flash of wit surprises the subject the way the neon light over Baltimore illuminates Lacan — his onlooking figure barely apparent, already fading, before it was even spoken.

This rendering of the subject proceeds from nowhere other than the game itself: a signifier in conjunction with another signifier follows not in the sign but in a subject. Thus, we behold the dual structure of dreams, lapses, puns, flashes of wit, in the origin of the subject’s division from itself — the child and his/her image in the mirror.

This subject — eventually the subject of the unconscious — is a retroactive effect of the act of speech called upon to determine it. What is an act of speech? Speech, we may say, a word free from the censorship of the ego, is directed to an Other. “Speech seeks a response of the Other. What constitutes me as subject is my question.”3

Who is the Other? The Other being a place4 rather than a who — it definitely fits Baltimore that morning. Lacan says the Other is where the speaker and the listener go, and in this sense language may evoke rather than inform, as we share the notion of Baltimore without fully perceiving the thoughts that created it. The Other always responds even if its response is heavy traffic or the proverbial silence of an analyst.

Why do we assume it’s a response? The Other is not whole. Lacan puts a bar across the Other creating the sign (Ø), meaning that the Other has a hole, a lack. Then, in relating to the subject, the Other is the one who desires. “Che vuoi ?” — which Stuart Schneiderman translates as “what does the Other want of me?”5 — is the question that relates the subject to Otherness, the question through which the subject may assume this desire which is outside of himself as his own. And the question again will still frame peculiarity, make it into a phantasma — the window overlooking Baltimore — a way of coordinating this Other’s desire, the way of concealing its gap.

At the closing moment of analysis we reach the point where we may see through the phantasma. The desire that we shall “not give way” as Lacan claims, is not the desire supported by the phantasma but rather the desire of the Other beyond it.     


In Baltimore, in October 1966, Lacan read a paper he entitled “Of Structure as an Inmixing of an Otherness Prerequisite to Any Subject Whatever,” to a Colloquium on “The Languages of Criticism and the Sciences of Man” at Johns Hopkins University.



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